I wrote a letter to Stephen’s parents today, thanking them for the lovely visit we had on Sat. As requested by Stephen, I also included a description of the three day ride I had in the truck with him. To save myself some work, I’ll just copy and paste it here so you are in the loop as well…
I was apprehensive at first, mostly because I am always uncertain and insecure in new situations, and visiting warehouses with a transport truck was very new to me. I was also unsure about the truck stops, food, and showers. In the end, I needn’t have worried about anything.
In order to travel with him, I needed to acquire a FAST card. I’m sure he has explained that at some point, but to refresh, it refers to a border crossing program designed for commercial drivers who frequently move back and forth from the United States. It stands for “Free and Secure Trade”, and cardholders are considered low risk at the borders. With my FAST card in hand, I was added to Kriska’s data base and assigned my very own ‘driver code’. I am now known as “STILS”, and this is how I appear on any documentation regarding the run or the cargo.
My very first outing was rather a baptism by fire. Stephen was scheduled to pick up a load of beer in Guelph at 7AM Jan 2. This would mean leaving the yard at 5:30, which would in turn mean leaving my house at 4. Gulp. Neither of us was keen on this, so we decided to go to Mississauga the night before and spend the night in the truck so we would be ready to set out bright and early. Wait, did I say ‘bright’ and early? No, there was nothing bright about it. When we set forth at 5:30, it was dark and gloomy, at least, to my bleary, sleepy eyes it was! We arrived at Sleemans Brewery where our trailer was loaded with pallets of beer. Stephen told me we had 40,000 pounds back there. This beer was destined for Chantilly, Virginia, and we had an appointment for a ‘live unload’ the next morning. Stephen is an excellent driver, very focussed on the road, conditions, and traffic. I felt completely safe with him at the wheel. The truck is surprisingly spacious and comfortable, containing a small fridge, microwave and plenty of storage bins. If necessary during the trip, I was able to move about to retrieve drinks or paperwork. Stephen said I could go back and sleep on the bunk during the day if I chose, but I preferred to watch the scenery. Our route to Chantilly took us across the border at Buffalo, through part of New York State, and down through Pennsylvania and Maryland.
We overnighted at a truck stop, and I was introduced to the shower facilities. I was amazed by how immaculate they were – not at all what I had expected. The room contained a sink, toilet and shower, and there was no limit to the amount of time you were allowed – which with the necessity of thoroughly drying my hair was a very good thing! There were clean fresh towels waiting in the room, warm and fluffy from the dryer!
The next morning we proceeded to our delivery point. Stephen backed the truck up to a loading dock, and we could feel the entire truck shuddering and rocking as the warehouse staff scuttled in and out with their forklift, relieving us of our beer. This is what constitutes a ‘live unload’. When our trailer was empty, we left the warehouse and headed for our next stop – a Hershey chocolate plant just a short distance away in Winchester, Virginia. Here we ‘dropped’ our empty trailer and checked in with the warehouse staff to determine which of several already loaded trailers we were to hook up. Let me preface this part by telling you that I love chocolate. I mean, seriously love chocolate. So a visit to a chocolate factory? Well, let’s just say it was a little slice of heaven. Upon entering the warehouse the first thing I noticed was the rows of pallets lined up ready to be loaded onto trailers. There were a number of loading docks, and in front of each one was the cargo intended for an incoming trailer. The pallets closest to me held Reeses Peanut Butter cups, according to the boxes. I did some math. There were 36 cartons on each pallet. Each carton contained 12 boxes. Each box contains 20 chocolate bars. That works out to 8,640 chocolate bars. Just on one pallet. And the really horrible part? I couldn’t touch any of them! I love Reeses Peanut Butter cups!
Looking up I noticed a conveyor belt high above us. It sloped gradually down toward the warehouse floor, and even more cartons of Reeses were progressing along the belt! When they reached the floor, they were loaded onto pallets which were then placed on a type of turntable and rotated as a massive bolt of Saran Wrap spun out to surround them snugly.
And the smell! Oh, the overpowering scent of chocolate! I daresay if you worked in it all day you would become desensitized to it, but to me it was delightful! I was so fascinated by the actions around me that Stephen had to pull my arm to get my attention that we were leaving. It was with some regret that I accompanied him back out to the parking lot.
We found our designated trailer and hooked up – which entailed Stephen lining up his tractor and backing slowly beneath the raised part of the trailer until the locking mechanism engaged with a tractor-shaking THUD. He then hopped out and connected the various hoses, raised the support feet of the trailer – much like airplane wheels retracting – and ensured everything was secure. It was then time to head for home. This trailer was destined for Mississauga, but all we had to do was get it to the Kriska yard, where a day driver would shuttle it to its next waypoint. A few hours into the drive I had the chance to look at the cargo manifest. In that trailer behind us was 44,000 pounds of chocolate! In addition to the peanut butter cups, we also had several pallets of Hershey’s Kisses, another of my favourites!
We arrived back in Mississauga late in the evening of Jan 4th. As directed, we unhooked the trailer, left it in the yard, and proceeded to the area where tractors are parked. Stephen parked the tractor, we packed up the last of our things to take home and, just like that, my first run in the tractor-trailer was finished. I say ‘first’ because there will be others, that is for certain. I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the road with Stephen, and while I can’t see myself ever doing that as a career, I look forward to accompanying him on future runs.